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www.expresscomputeronline.com WEEKLY INSIGHT FOR TECHNOLOGY PROFESSIONALS
04 May 2009  
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Home - Technology Life - Article

Feature

Is multi-skilling the need of the times?

In an effort to avoid retrenchment, reduce hiring and increase efficiency, organizations are seeking a multi-skilled workforce, writes Sudipta Dev

In an era of specialization, the downturn has interestingly brought into focus the necessity of having a multi-skilled workforce. Multi-skilling is currently the big buzzword. The common belief is that a multi-skilled workforce can avoid retrenchment and can lead to increased productivity for the organization in a time of increased severity, which can directly impact the company’s bottom line.

Some would argue of course that there was always a need to be multi-skilled, but the current economic turmoil has brought the necessity to the forefront. Possession of an additional skill goes a long way in opening new channels and opportunities for professionals, particularly at a time when their particular skill might not be needed by the organization for its business.

"Multi-skilling is not so-much about a particular level or category of employees. It is about a mind-set. It is about skill sets and you would agree therefore that it is fairly level-agnostic"

- Arun Rao
VP, Global HR, AppLabs

"From the perspective of the employee, multi-tasking would allow them to become diversified and maintain high levels of motivation and enthusiasm"

- Dr. Cabot Jaffee
Chairman, Global Talent Metrics

"Building multi-skilled capabilities of the middle rung of people allows
organizations to loop in talent
for new business initiatives / ventures"

- Surabhi Mathur Gandhi
General Manager, Permanent Staffing, Teamlease Services

Dr. Cabot Jaffee, Chairman, Global Talent Metrics and an HR thought leader, believes that it is a healthy trend from the perspective of the company as well as the employee, since it allows the company to bring about cost-cutting in various forms and more importantly, an individual does not become indispensable for the company, or rather a company need not depend on a particular person for doing a specialized job in which he is an expert. “Such a workforce would be self-managed and flexible according to the requirements of the company. From the perspective of the employee, multi-tasking would allow them to become diversified and maintain high levels of motivation and enthusiasm. It would also allow the employees to get involved in the various aspects of the functioning, work, etc., of their company, allowing them to be more involved in the performance of their firm and contributing in preventing lay-offs as well,” added Jaffe.

There are many who believe that multi-skilled employees are a great asset to an organization, irrespective of industry conditions. “In leaner times, a multi-skilled workforce helps bring in operational efficiency and increased productivity, since a smaller workforce is required to cater to the scaled down demand. But even when economic conditions are on the upswing, a multi-skilled workforce helps in addressing customer demand faster and better,” stated Rani Desai, Vice President & Global Head-Human Resources and Organization Development, Geometric.

Lekha Sishta, VP–HR & Talent Management, SumTotal Systems, elucidated the example of an employee who is a top performer, but only within his domain and expertise. His contribution to a company’s performance would be limited to how that domain, technology, etc., was doing in the market. If this employee, however, had multiple skills, was knowledgeable about different verticals and technology stacks, he would be far more effective in the market, because market disturbances can affect verticals, but it is unlikely that all verticals behave in the same manner in a downturn environment. “So if an employee enhances his skill sets, albeit in a phased manner, he will be far more valuable to his company and the company will be a more potent force in the market. Not only is this relevant in a recession, but also in a booming economy where companies compete to attract and retain the best business,” added Sishta.

Who needs to get multi-skilled

It is important to understand who needs to get multi-skilled. Do they need to be at a particular level or position, or doing a specific work? Interestingly, most experts do believe that being multi-skilled is level-agnostic. People trained in technical skills however need to have mastery over more than one platform necessitated on account of the high level of obsolescence in the field.

The non-technical staff can be trained in support functions to save an organization considerable cost. Desai agreed that training should preferably be in related/adjacent fields, so that the existing skills of the employees are appropriately leveraged. “Moreover, as these employees move into managerial or lead positions, knowledge of related fields aids them while interacting and collaborating with their various stakeholders,” she added.

“Multi-skilling is not so-much about a particular level or category of employees. It is about a mind-set. It is about skill sets and you would agree therefore that it is fairly level-agnostic,” stated Arun Rao, VP, Global HR, AppLabs.

How it helps employees
  • Reduction in job insecurity
  • Greater individual productivity
  • Better growth prospects
  • Holistic perspective regarding the organization’s business
  • Can achieve his personal goals quicker

Surabhi Mathur Gandhi, General Manager, Permanent Staffing, Teamlease Services felt that multi-skilling is of particular significance for key teams/leadership in an organization usually span the middle/mid senior levels with employees who are responsible for driving operations on the ground. “Building multi-skilled capabilities of the middle rung of people allows organizations to loop in talent for new business initiatives/ventures,” stated Mathur.

Benefits to the organization
  • Optimal utilization of workforce
  • Easy deployment of employees across projects
  • Increased productivity and better quality of deliverables
  • Creation of a flexible workforce which is well aware of the organization’s needs
  • Fillip to employee engagement

Scope of training

"If an employee enhances his skill sets, albeit in a phased manner, he will be far more valuable to his company and the company will be a more potent force in the market"

- Lekha Sishta
VP–HR & Talent Management,
SumTotal Systems

"In today’s day and age it is important that employees at each level/functions have multiple skills so as not to become redundant or stagnant"

- Ashish Arora
Managing Director, HR Anexi

"Cross-functional trainings will help the employees to take the opportunity of expanding their skills and be prepared to widen their scope of work"

- Papiya Mitra
Director, Human Resources, India, Japan & APAC, Magma Design Automation

"In leaner times, a multi-skilled workforce helps bring in operational efficiency and increased productivity, since a smaller workforce is required to cater to the scaled down demand"

- Rani Desai
Vice President & Global Head-Human Resources and Organization Development, Geometric

To be multi-skilled, an employee needs to be trained in functions/possess skills that are different from his own core skill. This training could be cross-functional or in related fields as per the requirements of the organization’s business demands and a person’s own career aspirations. It is important that the employee should be keen on getting trained and not just do it as a stop gap option.

Papiya Mitra, Director, HR, India, Japan & APAC, Magma Design Auto-mation, felt that the training should be a mix of both because the organization requires specific skill sets as well. “Cross-functional trainings will help the employees to take the opportunity of expanding their skills and be prepared to widen their scope of work,” she added.

Ashish Arora, Managing Director, HR Anexi acknowledged that though it is the world of specialization and super specialization, but in today’s day and age it is important that employees at each level/function to have multiple skills so as not to become redundant or stagnant.

Areas of caution

Getting employees multi-skilled is not without its own set of challenges. It is important to retain the core competency of the employee while he is being trained for the additional skill, which might lead to adverse impact like loss of interest and demotivation. A good employee can in fact end up being a liability if he is not properly directed in these efforts.

Arora warned that “forced multi-skilling” by companies might lead to the employee losing interest in job and finally walking out. This apart, employees’ work-life balance may be negatively impacted due to time constraints.

“Multi-skilling needs to be nurtured and ‘sold’ to employees. It should not be thrust randomly. Also, it is important to factor in the aptitude and appetite of the workforce. It should be seen as a continuing commitment from the organization and get reflected in the career path programs,” asserted Rao.

Mathur also cautioned that organizations should carefully evaluate the capability/capacity of such talent before exposing them to multi-faceted roles. Pure concentration on ROI may backfire if the existing employee is given an arena outside of his/her capability or scope of growth.

Retaining employees/avoiding retrenchment

The most obvious advantages of multi-skilling are—retention of employees and avoiding of retrenchment. But does it actually happen? To a large extent it does.

“Unless decisions are taken that cut away ownership/responsibilities of individuals, such changes are often viewed as positive changes by employees. Of course, tagged to additional responsibilities come the expectation of added benefits; whether in the form of added remuneration or additional perks. On stabilization of business/markets, it also becomes imperative for organizations to reward such individuals for the value addition,” stated Mathur.

Research has proved that employees who are motivated to perform multi-tasking or given a choice for job rotation, are more efficient and motivated compared to those who are not provided such a chance. “Through one of the surveys conducted by Global Talent Metrics in collaboration with IIM-B, we found that salary was not the primary reason for the employee to change or quit from jobs, but mismatch in employee and employer expectations. By employing tactics, such as multi-tasking and job rotation, an employee would be more connected and involved with the company and would prefer to stay in the same. Hence, multi-tasking combined with other techniques such as job rotation, encouragement and a good working ambience would definitely help in employee retention,” remarked Jaffee.

Linking the organization’s goals to an employee’s training becomes key to retaining the employee. Once the employee is trained and has the required (multiple) skills, he will also have the opportunity to use those skills. “His performance appraisal will reflect his using those new skills and performing well, so his compensation will also get affected positively. By making sure that you’re covering all areas of an employee life cycle like alignment, training, performance, succession planning and compensation, you’re providing him a fantastic workplace and providing him enough reasons for him to spend a long innings at your company,” said Sishta.

There are many other factors that drive business in uncertain times, but the fact that multi-skilled employees are adaptable and can be redeployed makes them the ideal manpower for any organization.

sudipta.dev@expressindia.com

 


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